Crashing the Books and the Boards

Crashing the Books and the Boards

South County's Antonio Butler hopes excellence in the classroom will breed victory on the basketball court.

Senior guard Antonio Butler wants to add a winning season to the South County boys' basketball team's record book, a feat that hasn't been achieved in the school's five-year history.

"It's the most important thing for us," he said. "It's at the top of our list."

As one of the team's captains, it's Butler's job to identify problem areas on the team and lead by example to fix them.

His first order of business for turning the program around?

Stronger performances in the classroom, not just on the basketball court.

"[Winning] has to start in the classroom," he said. "Everyone needs to get good grades. If we do good in the classroom, it will show on the court."

Butler said he got the idea for stressing academics from his own personal success in the classroom earlier this year.

"I started out the first quarter well," he said. "I want to carry that through the second quarter."

For some high school students, the phrase "student-athlete" might as well read "athlete-student," but Butler's commitment to focusing on both school and basketball isn't going unnoticed by his teammates.

"In the hallways, he hustles and makes us get to class on time," said junior forward Mohammed Alie-Cox. "He makes us get to practice on time. In practice, he makes everyone work even harder than we did."

The extra hard work is paying off early.

Through three games, the team is 2-2 with a victory over Robinson, a member of the historically strong Concorde District, and Annandale.

In South County's two losses, the team kept each game close, losing to Hayfield on Dec. 4 (50-42) and Oakton on Dec. 8 (64-57).

Not a bad start for the Stallions, who started 1-9 last December, but second-year head coach Wendell Johnson isn't concerned about past performances.

"We are thinking about what we can do to be a better team each night," Johnson said.

While Butler is changing his team's mindset through hard work in class and on the court, Johnson is hoping a position change for Butler will energize the Stallion's offensive attack.

Butler, who originally played forward, is being called upon to take on the role of point guard.

"He's running point guard for us right now," Johnson said. "He's bigger, stronger and can hold onto the ball. It's going to be big for us if he gets the hang of [the position]."

Butler concedes that the change is unsettling.

"Switching to point guard is an adjustment," he said. "I usually play forward, but they want me to be more of a passer. It's kind of difficult, but I'm coming into it."

Butler is also growing accustomed to what it means to be a leader. As one of three seniors on the team, Johnson is hoping younger players will follow Butler's example.

"He's learning [leadership]," he said. "He's in a new role of being the older kid. He's been on varsity since he was a sophomore and followed and watched. Now it's his team."

Butler, who is being recruited by Widener University in Wilmington, Del., admits the leadership role is just as foreign to him as point guard.

"I've never really been the leader of a team," he said. "I've always played a backing role, but I'm stepping into it fine."